Seahawks tight end Luke Willson said in an interview on KJR-AM 950 Tuesday he expects to hit the free agent market and then figure out his future from there.
Seahawks tight end Luke Willson, who officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 9, said Tuesday he would like to be back with Seattle but is going to explore all of his options before making a decision and said playing closer to his home in Lasalle, Ontario, Canada could play a role.
Willson also said he was surprised to hear coach Pete Carroll say in a press conference two days after the season that the team “tried to get something done (contractually with Willson during the season) and we weren’t able to.’’
Willson said he did not regard the offer that Seattle gave him during the season as “extremely serious.’’
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“I mean, there was an offer extended,’’ said Willson, a fifth-round pick in 2013 whose initial four-year rookie contract has run out. “I don’t know if it was extremely serious, we’ll leave it at that. It wasn’t, I didn’t really respond to it. … I was a bit surprised, to be completely honest with you, when I read that report (of Carroll’s comments) or saw that online. I was surprised that that kind of was let out there to the media or public because it was not extremely official, at least in my mind. But who knows.’’
Willson said he had not been in contact with the team since the end of the season, saying “right now, it’s pretty quiet” but that he expected things might heat up when the NFL combine rolls around the first week of March.
Pending free agents can sign extensions with their current teams at any time. As is the cause with Seattle’s other 13 unrestricted free agents such as kicker Steven Hauschka, Willson cannot sign with another team until the new league year begins on March 9 (officially, at 1 p.m. Seattle time).
Willson, who made $1.6 million last season, indicated he is prepared to hit the market and see what happens.
“I’d like to be back in Seattle,’’ he said. “I have said that it’s like a home to me. But again, I am going to explore all the opportunities. A lot of people have asked what I am looking for and this that and the other and I think for me, this is kind of the first time I’ve come out in public and said this, but for me it’s a bit of a sliding scale in the sense of that it’s not all about money —does money play a factor? Yes. But a winning culture, Seattle is a great city to play in.
“But I’m going to be completely honest and say that part of me would like to be closer to home, so that’s always a nice thing, too. So at the end of the day, I’m going to sit down with my family and take a look at the situation and kind of play out ‘hey, here are the offers, here are the cities, here are the teams with the culture that I like.’ As far as Seattle, it’s weird but this year felt like a struggle and we won 10 games — like I’ve never not won 10 games. So I don’t want to go to a team, if it’s up to me, where we are not competitive and hope that you can make that run. But again it’s an interesting time for me. But to be honest, I’m not worried or anxious at all — I’m kind of excited.’’
Seattle may have a limited tight end budget to spend on Willson, assuming it keeps Jimmy Graham for the 2017 season. Graham is due for a $10 million salary cap hit in 2017, which according to OvertheCap.com is third-highest among tight ends. Seattle also has Nick Vannett, a third-round pick last year, as an inexpensive backup and could re-sign Brandon Williams, also due to be a UFA, to what would likely be an inexpensive deal.
As noted earlier in our review of the tight end positions, Willson may want to see if he can get a deal similar to his college teammate at Rice, Vance McDonald of the 49ers.
Each was taken in the 2013 draft — McDonald a second-round — and has similar stats in four career seasons (McDonald 64 catches for 866 yards and seven TDs; Willson 74 receptions for 976 yards and seven TDs).
In December, McDonald signed an extension with the 49ers that essentially works out to three years and $19.7 million with a $7 million signing bonus (and options for fourth and fifth seasons).
Willson, meanwhile, has made roughly $3.3 million in four years with Seattle (having earned a proven performance escalator for last season) and knows this may be one of his best shots at getting a big payday.
Seattle, conversely, may not want to pay big to keep Willson if Graham is in the future plans, while also knowing it has Vannett in place on a rookie contract for three more years.
Asked if he’d like to go someplace where he could be the primary starter — Willson has been mostly behind Zach Miller and then Graham in his Seattle career though he has officially started 30 games due to injuries to Miller and Graham and also use in two-tight end sets — Willson said that would be a consideration but not necessarily the main one.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that personally I believe that I can have some pretty big years statistically,’’ said Willson, whose best year in Seattle came in 2014 with 22 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns. “But that’s not all it’s about. … it’s kind of a complex decision. It’s not just a one-factor decision. But once I actually have some concrete things to think about I will probably go from there.’’